Shelter Standards—A personal view

Reprinted from the Street Sheet newspaper

Left homeless after Hurricane Katrina, I was evacuated to Texas, where I was lucky enough to be placed in one of the many FEMA emergency shelters, where, despite all of the failures of the Federal agency in providing enough shelter, I was at least able to obtain soap and hot water, a clean towel, a toothbrush, band-aids, care, and compassion.  Feminine hygiene products and diapers were also available to those who needed them.  If the Federal government, which by all accounts failed to provide an adequate response to the displacement of residents of the Gulf impacted by the storm, took about two weeks to establish facilities where basic health standards were met, then why has it taken more than 20 years for the City of San Francisco to establish a Standard of Care in shelters for the homeless?

In all 50 states, there is a Standard of Care for animal shelters but not for humans.  After nearly two years in the making, San Francisco has finally adopted a minimum standard of care for human shelters.

A personal victory has been achieved for those who are homeless: a chance to go into a shelter for the night, and actually be treated with dignity.  Basic necessities everyone takes for granted such as the ability to take a hot shower with soap, and a clean towel, or even doing their laundry, will now be available to those with no other place to go.  And now, people with disabilities won’t have to worry about “breaking shelter rules by utilizing the electrical outlets” – someone can finally charge their wheelchair without any repercussions from staff.

With the basic needs being met and cared for, someone who comes into a shelter seeking a way to exit homelessness will now see a dramatic change in the way people are treated.  This is a huge victory for homeless people.


The Standards of Care legislation ensures homeless shelter residents’ rights to:

  • Being treated with dignity and respect;
  • A safe environment free of violence;
  • Toilet paper, hand soap, and dryers;
  • Clean sheets and blankets;
  • Pillow and towels;
  • Fresh drinking water;
  • First aid kits;
  • Reasonable accommodation for meals;
  • A nutritionist in system to plan meals;
  • 8 hours of sleep;
  • Daytime access in 24-hour shelters;
  • Electricity for charging cell phones;
  • Access to free local calls;
  • Materials in Spanish and English;
  • Trained staff who wear badges;
  • A disaster plan;
  • Public notice of meetings;
  • Access to free laundry; and
  • Minimum seven-night stays (excluding CAAP beds).

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland, Ohio, Issue 84, May 2008

Interview with Ed Gemerchak of the North Point Transitional Shelter

by Sarah Valek

How do you like your new job as director of North Point Inn?

I am grateful and excited to have the opportunity to direct the North Point Transition Housing Program.  MHS is operating the program and I started working with MHS one day a week in September, then moved to two days a week in October.  I’ll start full-time the first week of November.

Let me just be sure we’re all on the same page about North Point.  North Point Transitional Housing is a new program being developed by MHS for men residing at 2100 Lakeside who are committed to finding work and a home. North Point will provide a wide array of resources to help men leave homelessness and move on with their lives as quickly as possible.

North Point Transitional Housing will be located at the former North Point Inn on Superior and E. 18th.  North Point will provide semi-private rooms and baths for 160 able-bodied men. Residents will be welcome 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for up to 6 months.  Each resident will save 40% of his income to be used towards his own housing.

North Point will provide intensive case management that will help participants overcome barriers to employment and housing. All residents will utilize employment services – each according to his needs. Others services will be provided on an individual basis by either MHS or one of its partner agencies. 

What do you foresee as being the best part of your job? What will be the worst part?

On the most basic level, I expect it will gratifying to see homeless men finding and keeping good jobs and permanent housing, and moving on with their lives. There will certainly be challenges – which of these will be the greatest remains to be seen.   

What are your initial plans/goals for North Point?  

We are busy hiring and training staff, the building is being renovated, and we are starting to do interviews and provide case management at 2100 Lakeside.  We are also working closely with service providers to help make sure the men we serve have the resources they will need to meet their goals. 

When does North Point officially open? What processes are needed before the shelter can open?  

North Point staff will begin providing case management and other services to homeless men in November at 2100 Lakeside.  Our first residents will move into North Point in mid-January.  Aviation High School will close on Jan. 31, so we will have a full-house at North Point by then.  

Describe your duties as director of North Point. How will this differ from your job at Interfaith Hospitality?  

As Director of the North Point Transitional Housing Program I will be responsible for making sure the program achieves its goals: providing short-term transitional housing for homeless men, helping them secure a job that pays a decent wage, assisting them in obtaining housing, and maintaining that housing for at least 6 months.  

The Interfaith Hospitality Network provides shelter and support to homeless families using a network of 60 congregations and 3,000 volunteers. So both the population served and the service model is different from North Point.  Additionally, at IHN I was the Executive Director, which meant that I ran the entire agency. 

Describe your background with Interfaith Hospitality. 

I was the founding director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network and served as Executive Director for almost 10 years.

What role will North Point serve in the homeless community?

North Point will work very closely with 2100 Lakeside to assist men in leaving homelessness as soon as possible. Our goal will be to shorten the length of homelessness from an average of 9 months to 4 ½ months.  By placing hundreds of men a year into permanent housing we also hope to lessen the burden on other shelters.  

How will the shelter be staffed? How many staff will be utilized?  

North Point will be staffed with case managers, housing monitors, security, and staff from Towards Employment and the VA. 

Who determines which men get into North Point? Is there any sort of “game plan” for the men once they enter North Point?

North Point case managers will conduct short interviews at 2100 Lakeside and the case management team will determine who comes to North Point.  The criteria are simple: men who are willing and able to work.

The game plan is to get men into a decent paying job, saving money, and moving into their own housing.  We will work closely with Towards Employment, Employment Connection, the VA and other service providers to make this happen.

The City has said the Stage 2 strip club/bar will remain on the grounds until further notice. Are there any future plans for the club to be relocated? How do you see the club/bar affecting North Point residents who are striving to live a sober lifestyle?

The City of Cleveland is actively working on relocating Stage 2 before North Point opens.  Of course, we hope they are successful.

How long have you worked with homelessness? What do you view as the largest cause of homelessness? Do you know of any possible solutions to homelessness in Cleveland?

I started working with homeless people in New York City in 1988. So I’ve been doing this work for nearly 20 years!  For about 10 of those years I worked with people with HIV and AIDS, many of whom were currently or formerly homeless.

The way I see it, the cause of homelessness is poverty and housing. Of course I’m biased, but I think the North Point program is part of the solution to homelessness in Cleveland.  We are going to address poverty and housing head-on by working very hard to get people into decent jobs, helping them save money, and then assisting them in obtaining and maintaining permanent housing. 

For all intents and purposes, the North Point shelter will offer the most privacy to residents of any shelter in Cleveland. Do you foresee this causing problems for the management of the shelter, and how would you address these problems?

I think the privacy well help with the management of the shelter.  I think the residents will feel safe and will be more able to focus on achieving their goals.

Are there any plans to open additional overflow shelters, since the demand to stay at North Point will likely increase traffic at other shelters?

I expect North Point will decrease traffic at other shelters, not increase traffic.  

Do you feel that substance abuse issues among homeless people are overplayed as a cause of homelessness? In other words, do you think that homeless people who have substance abuse issues are homeless because of the substance abuse; or that they may have substance abuse issues because they are homeless?

Substance abuse is certainly an issue for homeless men, but all addicts are not homeless. Many (most) addicts manage to keep jobs and stay housed. I also think the best place to work on one’s recovery is not on the street or in a shelter, but in one’s own home.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland, Ohio, Issue 84, May 2008

Homeless Stand Down

On February 1, 2008, over 750 homeless people attended the Homeless Stand Down at the Cleveland Convention Center.  The Stand Down connects those experiencing homelessness with volunteers to offer food, clothing, medical consultations, and contacts with social service providers.  The Cleveland Department of Public Health, Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Inter Act Cleveland joined the Veterans Affairs, 2100 Lakeside Shelter, County Office of Homeless Services, Trinity Cathedral, Bishop Cosgrove Center, Louis Stokes Department of Veterans Affairs to support this event. More than 70 Cleveland health and human services agencies participated in the 2008 Stand Down. 

Inter Act took the lead in staging two other days of the Stand Down in which food and winter clothing was distributed.   463 haircuts were conducted, and over 2,000 guests attended over three days.  1,800 bus passes were distributed, and 1,900 care kits were passed out.  Some of the service offered on February 1 included:

Blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose screenings

Dental check ups.

Mental health screenings

HIV/AIDS testing

Vision and glaucoma screenings

Bone density tests.

Distribution of Voice mail telephone numbers


Smoking cessation and nutrition information

Job training

Legal Assistance

Flu shots

Services to veterans, seniors, and the chemically addicted

Matt Carroll, Director of the Cleveland Department of Public Health said, “We are delighted to one again partner with so many local organizations to provide one-stop health and social services to the Cleveland homeless population.  Individuals who are deemed to need immediate care will be immediately transported to Care Alliance for follow up care.” 

Catholic Charities and the Cleveland Food bank provided a complimentary breakfast and a hot lunch.  Radio One’s Praise 1490 were also on hand and brought in classical gospel musician Jeff Majors to assist with the event.  Majors gave a performance at the Word church later in the evening for homeless people.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland, Ohio, Issue 84, May 2008

Gail Long Recipient of 2008 Ione Biggs Award

By Sarah Valek

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) is pleased to announce Gail Long as the recipient of the 2007 Ione Biggs Social Justice Award.

The award is given in honor of the memory of one of the favorite daughters of Cleveland. Ione Biggs helped facilitate the development of many social justice groups, and represented Cleveland at the United Nations forums on women.  She led the way as a pioneer in the area of civil rights, reducing poverty, equality, and peace.  A committee of progressive groups came together to select this year’s Ione Biggs Social Justice Award winner including Women Speak Out for Peace and Justice, Women’s Re-Entry Network, NEOCH, the Empowerment Center of Greater Cleveland, the Cleveland Tenants Organization, and the Church of the Covenant.

For over four decades, Long worked diligently for the rights of disenfranchised and low-income people. She started as an AmeriCorps*VISTA in the 1960s doing community organizing for the West Side Community House and eventually became the executive director of the Merrick House in the Tremont neighborhood.

Gail Long became involved in a broad range of social, political and economical justice issues, such as the anti-war movement, bridging the racial divide, fighting for state budget equality, and universal access to health care.  She passionately fought for her constituency on the near west side of Cleveland through heath care accessibility and affordability by creating a county-wide coalition called Citizens to Save Metro Health that fought against any privation of Metro Health hospital.  She has served on the Cleveland Housing Network Board as well as the Cleveland Tenants Organization’s Board to preserve and expand affordable housing opportunities.  Long did extensive work with Cuyahoga County to protect low-income families through two decades of reform of the welfare system.

Long’s tenacious commitment to stand, walk and work with disadvantaged people is why the committee chose Gail Long as the 2007 Ione Biggs Award winner.  We present this award to Gail Long, and her name will be placed on the plaque kept in the main office of the Coalition.

Long received the award at NEOCH’s seventh annual “Partnering to End Homelessness” fundraising dinner and auction on Friday, May 2nd, 2008.  The Ione Biggs Social Justice Award is given out each year to a person who’s made an outstanding contribution to advancing social justice. The first recipient in 2007 was Mayor Frank G. Jackson.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland, Ohio, Issue 84, May 2008

Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones Honored Homeless Nurse and Remembered those Homeless Who Passed Away

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless hosted the 21th Annual Homeless Memorial on December 21, 2007 at Franklin Circle Church to remember those who died over the last year while homeless.  The memorial services took place before the meal at Franklin Circle Church, and was hosted by lead pastor Rev. Allen Harris.   A short inter-denominational service was conducted before the names of those individuals who passed away over the last year were read.  Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Jones said a few words to honor those who passed away, and recognized Patricia Tomcho for her lifetime of work helping to save the life of those who are homeless ahead of her 2008 retirement.

The memorial day was part of National Homeless Memorial Day with similar ceremonies on the first day of winter in over 75 cities in the United States.  All the Coalitions in the state of Ohio also marked the first day of winter with vigils on Thursday December 20 or Friday December 21. 

Patricia Tomcho has worked for the past 25 years to protect and improve the conditions for homeless people.  Tomcho worked as a nurse for the Veterans Administration, Health Care for the Homeless (now Care Alliance) and West Side Catholic.  She helped found the health clinic at Malachi Center, the Coalition for the Homeless, and Joseph’s Home.  Tomcho has worked to improve the service delivery system to homeless people in Cuyahoga County, and probably saved the lives of more homeless people in the Cleveland area then anyone else.  “All of the homeless service providers and the thousands of homeless people who Pat has served over the last 25 years would like to honor nurse and advocate, Pat Tomcho, for her lifetime of service in improving the delivery system to homeless people.  Cleveland is better off because Pat decided to dedicate her time to helping homeless people,” said Brian Davis.

The names of those who passed away over the last five years are posted on the Coalition website at  The memorial is co-sponsored this year by the City/County Office of Homeless Services, the Louis Stokes Veterans Affairs Department, Care Alliance, InterAct Cleveland, and Franklin Circle Christian Church.  The 2007 memorial was attended by 138 people, and the co-sponsors gave a lifetime achievement certificate to a nurse in the community who has worked to improve the health care system for homeless people.

At the December memorial, State Representative Michael Foley presented HR 419, a bill to protect homeless people from Hate Crimes.  Mayor Frank Jackson attended the ceremony to honor all of those who passed away over the last year.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland, Ohio, Issue 84, May 2008